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Pakistan Taliban suspend month-long ceasefire but still want talks

Source: Reuters - Wed, 2 Apr 2014 17:21 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Jibran Ahmad

PESHAWAR, Pakistan April 2 (Reuters) - The Pakistani Taliban have not extended a month-long ceasefire but are still open to pursuing peace talks with the Islamabad government, a spokesman for the insurgent movement said Wednesday.

Shahidullah Shahid said some Taliban leaders had objected to extending the ceasefire, which lasted during the month of March.

The Pakistani Taliban and the Islamabad government are now involved in their second round of peace talks. A first round failed in February after the Taliban bombed a police bus and executed 23 men kidnapped from a government paramilitary force.

Islamabad then refused to hold further talks until the Taliban announced a ceasefire on March 1.

Government negotiators were not available Wednesday to comment on whether talks would continue.

Taliban negotiators have demanded the government release 800 prisoners they describe as innocent family members and withdraw the army from part of the semi-autonomous tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.

"We gave this list and names of our civilian prisoners as a test case and wanted to see if the government was serious," one commander said. "But we felt that the government is either powerless or not serious in talks."

Ibrahim Khan, a religiously conservative politician representing the Taliban in the talks, said they had presented their demands on March 29 but had no answer from the government. He did not know if talks would continue without a ceasefire.

ATTACKS COULD RESUME

Taliban spokesman Shahid accused the government of continuing to kill Taliban during the ceasefire, especially in Karachi, the country's largest city. Taliban fighters are so prevalent in some neighbourhoods that law enforcement agencies are sometimes reluctant to enter.

Taliban commander Omar Khalif Khurasani, from the northern Mohmand region, said attacks would begin again in Pakistan. "There would be more attacks in which common people suffer as the government isn't sincere in peace talks," he told Reuters.

Pakistan was not entirely peaceful during the ceasefire. A militant group calling itself Ahrar-ul-Hind launched a rare attack in Islamabad, killing 11 in a court including a judge.

The Taliban said they were not responsible for the actions of other militant groups.

Last week, several militant commanders said the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, which are separate but allied groups, had agreed on the month-long ceasefire.

Both Taliban groups were concerned that a possible military operation along the border would disrupt Taliban bases used to launch attacks in Afghanistan, they said.

Both are fighting to impose a strict Islamic state, but each group usually focuses its attacks on its own country.

Afghanistan is due to hold presidential elections on April 5 that should mark the first time one democratically elected government hands power to another in the country's history.

But while Pakistan was relatively peaceful last month, the Afghan Taliban launched a series of high profile attacks in Afghanistan, killing both local and foreign residents.

Many fear the insecurity will keep Afghan voters at home, making it easier for corrupt officials to stuff ballot boxes. (Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in Karachi and Mehreen Zahra-Malik in Islamabad; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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